On a boring winter afternoon, Alice dreams, that she's visiting the land behind the mirror. This turns out to be a surrealistic nightmare, with all sorts of strange things happening to her, like changing her size or playing croquet with flamingos. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
Bing Crosby was one major Paramount star who refused to appear in this film. The Old Groaner was right since it was considered a flop. See more »
William Shakespeare's birth and death dates are given as 1585-1616. That would make him 31 when he died. Actually, although he did die in 1616 at the age of 52, he was born in 1564. See more »
I've often seen a cat without a grin - but a grin without a cat!
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The opening cast credits are in order of appearance, with stills of credited actors shown twice: first in full costume and mask with the character name identified, and followed by a studio photo of each with their actor name identified. The end credits are in alphabetical order and presented normally with a character name and actor name on each line. See more »
Paramount on Parade, in costumes inspired by Lewis Carroll & Sir John Tenniel
Okay, right off the bat, Paramount's all-star costume party is no substitute for the Alice books. Perhaps the eccentric literary genius of Lewis Carroll simply can't be properly recreated in a screen adaptation. No one's managed it yet, at any rate (though I'd like to see the Brothers Quay take a crack at it). Nevertheless this curious film version is worth seeing, especially for animation & special effects buffs, fans of Hollywood stars from the early talkie era, and connoisseurs of offbeat cinema. Even fans of '30s horror flicks should take a look, because this film is closer to those works in spirit than you might expect. Although I haven't seen the Paramount ALICE IN WONDERLAND in years there are elements I recall vividly, and they tend to be the frightening or bizarre moments: Alice's blurry transformations in size; Humpty Dumpty's spindly legs flailing as he tumbles backward off his wall; a puppet-like Alice sailing down the stairs, out the door and landing on the walk; the Mock Turtle sobbing weirdly as he sings of Beautiful Soup; and, most vivid of all, that horrible-looking piece of mutton sprouting a face and complaining when Alice attempts to slice into him.
20 year-old Charlotte Henry is pretty and sweet as Alice, decidedly sweeter than the stubbornly logical Alice of the books. To play the denizens of Wonderland and the Looking Glass World (realms jumbled together into a single patchwork Crazy Quilt here) the studio trotted out most of its contract stars to don heavy disguises, and the result is kind of like seeing all your favorite teachers participate in a school Christmas pageant. Some of them pull it off better than others. Perhaps the best-remembered casting is W.C. Fields as an especially cantankerous Humpty Dumpty. It's a memorable sequence alright, but somehow unsatisfying and even a little disturbing; Fields was too constrained by his makeup and the necessity of following Carroll's famous dialog to make the character his own. Interestingly, according to James Curtis' recent biography, Fields thoroughly hated this assignment and performed his scene in an ugly humor.
The scenario is disjointed, but some scenes are unforgettable. Cartoon buffs will want to tune in for The Walrus and The Carpenter sequence, introduced by Tweedle-Dumm & Tweedle-Dee (i.e. actors Jack Oakie and Roscoe Karns) wearing such cumbersome-looking rubber masks that we worry about their ability to breathe properly. The animators responsible for this sequence received no screen credit, and for a long time I was under the impression it was the work of the Fleischer Studio (whose output was distributed by Paramount) but apparently it was produced by Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising, who were affiliated with producer Leon Schlesinger prior to this period. It's interesting to speculate how ALICE IN WONDERLAND might have turned out if the entire film had been animated, with Paramount's contract stars simply supplying the voices. This was still several years prior to Disney's breakthrough feature SNOW WHITE, so the result could have been a groundbreaking milestone in animation, and perhaps more appealing than the adaptation Disney eventually released in the early '50s. As it stands, this live action version features masks and costumes clearly modeled on the books' original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, and offers the amusing game of figuring out which actor is under which disguise. Some of the players (Edward Everett Horton, Edna May Oliver) are more recognizable than others (Cary Grant, Sterling Holloway). The casting doesn't always make sense, but Gary Cooper's befuddled White Knight comes off surprisingly well, and arguably steals the show.
The Paramount ALICE IN WONDERLAND has never been available in any official VHS or DVD release, although I believe collectors would snap it up if it were properly restored. One problem I recall from the TV viewings of my childhood was that the picture was badly cropped, cutting off significant amounts of image, a particular problem during the credits that identify the players. This was done in 'Storybook' fashion, with big leaves turning and matching each costumed Wonderland character with the actor playing that character, seen in street clothes. The actors' names are at the very bottom of the frame, and unfortunately when seen on TV the names are almost completely obscured. This isn't such a problem when the actor is well remembered, like W.C. Fields or Gary Cooper, but not many latter-day viewers are going to recognize the likes of Ford Sterling or Louise Fazenda. It would be delightful news for movie buffs if someone (Criterion, are you listening?) could release a fully restored, letter-boxed edition of this flawed but fascinating production.
P.S. It's a pleasure to add that, as of March 2010, this film has finally received an official DVD release, concurrent with the new Tim Burton adaptation of the story. I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with the Paramount Alice.
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